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Train to SF: You Rather Have 13 Hours or 3 Hours?

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On this November's ballot, we will be voting on Proposition 1, a bond that will help fund a high speed rail route that is planned to have a two hour-forty minute train trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco. USA Today columnist David Grossman writes his experiences and why we need it:

When visiting the East Coast I often use Amtrak to traverse the Northeast corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., instead of flying the air shuttles or driving the toll roads of I-95. The Acela Express and even the regional trains on those routes are often quicker than flying or driving, particularly if your origin and destination are within the city centers.... But that is only the Northeast corridor. In California, where I reside, and most other parts of the country, Amtrak is a completely different product offering. In the Northeast, trains attain operating speeds of 125 to 150 miles per hour, according to Black. On the 423-mile stretch between Oakland and Los Angeles aboard Amtrak's daily Coast Starlight train, the scheduled travel time is more than 13 hours. Though the train reaches 79 miles per hour on some segments, the average speed on this day-long marathon ranges between 25 to 35 miles per hour.

Slow travel speeds are caused by a combination of mountainous terrain and sharing the tracks with freight trains. Outside the Northeast corridor, freight railroads generally own the tracks. In most places double tracks have been removed because they are too costly to maintain. As a result Amtrak must continually wait on sidings for other trains to pass, and the freight trains operated by the host railroads that own the tracks often take priority over passenger trains. My train sat for what seemed like hours at many places along the way and at one point was delayed 30 minutes after we rammed a shopping cart someone left on the tracks. With all these impediments it is no wonder few business travelers use Amtrak outside the Northeast corridor.

The California High Speed Rail Blog, which supports Prop 1, has
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further analysis for this and another of Grossman's HSR articles.